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Yankees Hot Corner – Who’s starting the Wild Card game?

It’s the question that’s been asked about a million times.  It’s the question that is on the minds on every Yankee fan and every sports talk radio host.  It’s the answer to that question that could mean either a World Series trip or a disappointing loss in the Wild Card game.  Who is going to start against Oakland?

There are three realistic options;  There’s Luis Severino, the ace of the staff regardless of how poor he’s pitched lately.  There’s the newcomer J.A. Happ who has been lights out since he was traded to the Yankees from Toronto.  Finally, there’s Masahiro Tanaka, the enigmatic star who shines in big games but also can give up five solo home runs in one inning.

There’s a case to be made for all three.  Sevy has the electric stuff to shut down a potent A’s lineup.  Happ has been the most consistent of the three choices.  Tanaka has the highest ceiling given the magnitude of the game and his history in big games.  Let’s make a case for each.

The case for Luis Severino

Luis Severino has been terrible in the second half of the season.  Since the All-Star break, he’s been one of worst pitchers in the league.  Considering he was a CY Young candidate heading into All-Star weekend, his fall from grace has been STARTLING.  He has given up less than three runs only twice since July 7th.  No one’s sure if it’s a fatigue or control issue, but he needs to figure it out quickly.

The case for him after all of this negativity?  He’s still Luis Severino.  Severino has some of the nastiest stuff in the league.  He throws serious heat (triple digits on the regular) has nasty breaking pitches and can mix in that changeup when he’s feeling it.  When Severino is right there aren’t many pitchers better than him.  That’s why he should start the Wild Card game.

The case for J.A. Happ

J.A. Happ has been magnificent for the Yankees since coming over in the Brandon Drury trade right before the deadline.  Happ is 6-0 with a 2.70 ERA as a Yankee, with his only bad start coming against the Tigers where he gave up five runs.  Other than that, he’s been essentially lights out.  He’s a breath of fresh air and exactly what the Yankees need.

Why should he start?  Because he’s been by far the most consistent pitcher heading into the playoffs and you don’t need to worry about his control.  With Severino and Tanaka, when they’re off they are way off.  With Happ, he lives on the corners and doesn’t have overpowering stuff.  He relies on his accuracy to get through each inning.  If you’re looking for the safest bet, look no further than J.A. Happ.

The case for Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka is an extremely frustrating pitcher.  He is a masterful pitcher with an incredible splitter.  When he’s on, he mixes in his splitter, slider, and fastball to keep hitters off balance.  When he’s off, he gives up home runs more than just about anyone in baseball.  However, the biggest factor that Tanaka brings is his gamemanship in big situations.

Tanaka is a big game pitcher, plain and simple.  While Luis Severino got shelled in the Wild Card game last postseason, Tanaka was steady throughout and threw gems against both the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros.  He has started in the Wild Card game before, a 2-0 loss to the Astros in the 2015 playoffs.  What were those two runs from?  Solo home runs.  Regardless, Tanaka is the most experienced of the bunch and has the biggest upside in big games.

Prediction

Because J.A. Happ doesn’t have overpowering stuff, Masahiro Tanaka should start the Wild Card game.  While his propensity to give up the long ball is high, he’s also just as likely to pitch a two hit complete game shutout.  Which Tanaka will we see?  It doesn’t matter, because if the Yankees lineup can muster just a few runs the Yankees should be fine.  Starting Tanaka also saves him for a potential Game 4 matchup if they do get through the Wild Card game.

At the beginning of the season, the choice would be Severino 100 times out of 100.  However, due to his glaring lack of success in the postseason and his overall bad numbers lately, you can’t take the chance on Sevy.  He is still the ace of this pitching staff, but the last thing the Yankees need to is to have him throw 4 innings of uninspiring ball.  Give the ball to Tanaka and let it ride.

 

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